To help her daughter navigate the somewhat murky waters of social media, Kristin Meier set strict guidelines when her 15-year-old opened a Facebook account. She friended her daughter, set up security with her, required access to her password and informed her that inappropriate posts or photos could result in the loss of her Facebook privileges.
As much as she encourages her daughter to make the right decisions, mistakes do happen. "There was a time that she left herself logged in at a friend's house. The friend posted on her wall -- not anything inappropriate -- but had it been anyone else, it could have been," Meier says. "It did bring up the conversation on passwords and keeping your personal information private."
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, "for general advice and influence, parents are still the top source for teen internet and cell phone users." If you haven't already, educate yourself on social media so you and your teen can talk about about how to use it appropriately and avoid misuse that can cause serious heartache later.
Follow age guidelines.
"For Facebook, they need to be 13 and that needs to be non-negotiable. Just like many aspects of our life, like driving a car and drinking alcohol, we have to follow those age requirements," says Dr. Gwenn O'Keefe, a pediatrician, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the author of CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming and Social Media.
Take a look at different social networks to determine which ones are appropriate for your child. Check out Mashable.com and CommonSenseMedia.org, which provide informative articles, as well as reviews on websites, apps and networks targeting different age groups.
Predators and strangers aren't the only "wrong people" to be aware of. Set up privacy settings with your child to avoid their account becoming accessible by people who are not part of their social network, "like potential employers, college admission advisors or just people snooping," O'Keefe says. "We want to make sure they have control over who they're friending and that other people can't just peer onto their site and their posts."
Also, advise your kids to never share their passwords or any other personal information and to only "friend" people who are actual friends.
"...for general advice and influence, parents are still the top source for teen internet and cell phone users."
The Golden Rule applies online, too.
Explain to your kids that their online identity is an extension of their offline identity. "Teach your kids how to treat others well online, the way they treat others well offline," O'Keefe says.
Make a contract.
Discuss your rules ahead of time. Together sign a family technology-use agreement. Post it next to your computer as a reminder. Example contracts and pledges can be found at the Family Online Safety Institute (www.fosi.org) or SafeKids.com.
Set up a Google Alert with your kids' names to help monitor where their name shows up online. Also, keep computers in an open, family area, rather than in your child's room.
Watch for behavioral changes.
Facebook depression is a growing phenomenon that can affect anyone who uses social networking.
"Teenagers in particular can be very vulnerable to mood changes because they compare themselves to others on social networking sites," O'Keefe says. "There might be kids getting invited to parties or lots of pictures of people doing other things and they start to feel inferior. Often that's a very normal reaction."
Contact your pediatrician if your teen's moods don't improve after two weeks to determine if intervention with a psychologist or therapist is warranted.
Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance writer, wife and mom of two active boys and one very playful mutt.